Social Media Handles: To Change or Not to Change?

Brands often consider whether or not they should change their social media handles. But changing social media handles can be bothersome, and even troublesome, if you don't take the appropriate steps to ensure your bases are covered.

I just completed this exercise for a client recently. The client's brand position had changed from being a consumer-facing hospital to one that partnered with other consumer-facing hospitals, going to market with the brand recognition of the partner, while acting as the silent partner (or the holding company).

In order to communicate their new positioning, from a B2C to a B2B focus, they sought to change part of their name from "hospital" to "holdings." Since this was a direct shift in overall company direction and we did not want to cause confusion with their new target, we recommended a change in their social media handles—and helped them implement across channels.

Before embarking on this for my client, much thought went into the strategic approach. That said, there are some instances where brands actually stand to lose more than what's gained when changing handles. That's why it's a decision that must be considered carefully.

How to Know When to Switch

In exploring whether to change social media handles, it's first key to understand what are the triggers driving this decision, as this can directly impact your approach. For example, are you going through a rebrand, refresh or evolution? Did you pick the wrong handle to begin with? Are your handles inconsistent across platforms and you want to make it easy for people to find or remember you?

In each scenario, it's essential to weigh the pro's and con's. If you've changed the name of your business and so your channel names are just no longer applicable, then yes, go ahead and change them. If you're going through a brand evolution of sorts, and your name has changed slightly from, for example, Business Solutions to Business Solutions Unlimited, perhaps a social change is not warranted as it may only cause problems with existing inbound linking.

I've outline the steps and considerations below, but each case is different, so you'll need to look at your specific situation. One caveat to consider is whether the name you want to move to is available across all social platforms you're on (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, etc.). If the exact match isn't available, is there a second or third option you can explore? Perhaps including/excluding abbreviations, such as Inc. or LLC.

Considerations for Each Channel

With some social channels you can change the username or the username and URL. I'd recommend you do both where you can, even though it's a bit more work, to create even greater brand continuity. Here are a few overarching considerations to keep in mind.

  • Remember to update all reference links to the new pages - and these can be anywhere (e.g. websites, other social pages, etc.)
  • Any printed marketing materials will need to be updated and reprinted.
  • Plan enough time to make these updates—scheduling out the timing to ensure all digital and marketing materials reflect the new handle.
  • Place a "we've moved" page on Twitter, at the old handle.
  • Be aware that Facebook and Twitter do not redirect to the new URL's so again, assessment at the beginning of the process is imperative or you will lose potential followers.

As for additional channel-specific considerations, keep the following in mind:

Facebook

For your username, it's easy. Just go to Home / Edit Page Info, and update the NAME section. To update the URL, you'll need to submit a request to Facebook and may be asked to submit documentation that shows your connection to the new name. Please note Facebook only lets you update your vanity URL once. Also, you cannot claim a username someone else is already using.

Twitter

Simply log in and update the name and handle in your account setting, as long as the handle is available. If you have a trademark on the name or the account looks inactive, you do have some other options to try to claim the name. You should also pursue getting verified with the new name. Once you change the name, if you go back to your old page you'll notice the page no longer exists. I'd recommend you claim that page and post a "We've moved" message so that if users come to the old page they know where to find you. (Twitter is the only platform you can do this on.)

Pinterest

Just go the settings area of your business account and you can change the business name and username (URL/handle) right there.

LinkedIn

Simply go to ADMIN TOOLS, OVERVIEW, and update the name.

Instagram

The easiest of them all, just click EDIT PROFILE and update the username.

Implications of Switching

The good news is if you follow the directions in this post, you won't actually lose any followers or fans. The downside is that if people know you as one name and search for you by that name, they may land on a page that will no longer exist. This is why it's very important to update all of your links and any printed materials with the new URL's. Be advised that you cannot just start opening up pages with the new name, because your fans will not be moved over. You have to change the usernames/URLs of your existing pages. 

At the end of the day, your social channels are an extension of your brand and therefore they must represent it in the most optimal and accurate way. Although it requires a bit of legwork, taking the necessary steps at each point in the juncture will help ensure your brand equity remains in tact—and your followers remain engaged.

Dori Ludwig serves as Pierpont's Director of Marketing and works across B2B and B2C clients to support branding, integrated marketing and digital engagements.